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Pleas for 'no more cuts' unlikely to be heeded

Linda Compton, left, and Sarah Schmidt hold banners as they participate in a skit Thursday in Willmar that was presented to county and state elected officials. Sponsored by Arc Kandiyohi, the skit sent the message that people with disabilities don't want to see further cuts to programs that help them live independently. Geri Wallace, an adviser for the group, is at the microphone. (Tribune photos by Carolyn Lange)

WILLMAR -- Members of Arc Kandiyohi sent a strong message to elected officials about the value of programs for people with disabilities and the fear that budget cuts could reduce services and diminish their quality of life.

In a skit they presented Thursday in Willmar to a panel of state lawmakers and county officials, the group read scenarios about the programs they use and repeated the chant, "no more cuts."

It's unlikely the request will be granted.

"I wish I could say there would be no cuts to services you need," said Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls.

But Kubly said the state won't be able to "work its way out of the recession" without increasing revenue and making more cuts that will likely affect all agencies.

If one area was immune from budget cuts, he said, it would only increase the burden to the other agencies, like hospitals and nursing homes that are also experiencing hardships.

For the next two years the state will deal with a "25 percent lack of money in our budgets," said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.

According to State Economist Tom Stinson, the $1.2 billion deficit expected in 2010 is projected to grow to $5.4 billion in 2011.

Besides increasing revenue and making more cuts, Juhnke said the state also needs to reform how it delivers services. "The world is not going to look the same in the next few years," said Juhnke.

"You need to understand," he said, "there will be fewer services."

Mary Rhude, executive director of Arc Kandiyohi, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities and their families, said she's afraid the reduction of services will mean a loss of independence for people like her son.

He's living independently in Willmar with two other men with disabilities. They each receive about 10 hours of assistance each week.

"They're healthier individuals," she said, and their independent lifestyle is "saving the county money" now and for the future.

But she said if programs are cut, people with disabilities may not be able to live outside of their parents' homes.

Brenda Simning told the panel she used to live in a group home and worked in a sheltered workshop. State funding got her the training she needed for a different job and she now lives in her own home.

"I just hope state funding will be there for others," said Simning.

Cutting programs "will only stop people like me from being independent," she said.

Debb Sheehan, director of PACT 4 Families Collaborative, provided data that showed a dollar-and-cents correlation between preventive programs and future social savings.

Juhnke said Kandiyohi County has more group homes per capita than any other county in the state, which makes issues about budgets and services crucial to this community.

He said members of groups like Arc Kandiyohi need to make their voices heard.

Steve Larson, from The Arc of Minnesota, gave the group some specific pointers about how to lobby local and state officials.

Larson also told them cuts made in 2009 will have a direct impact on their lives, including fewer dentist visits, a 30 percent reduction in personal allowances and a reduction in personal care attendants.

Faced with the likelihood of even more cuts, Larson encouraged the Arc members to continue to be advocates for programs, but said the programs need to be delivered more efficiently "because there won't be any new dollars."


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750